Sidelined in the Strait

The attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN-768) and the USS New Orleans (LPD 18), a San Antonio class amphibious transport dock, collided in the night in the narrow but strategically important Strait of Hormuz

Yet another two vessels have been sidelined in a fleet the Navy hopes to grow to 313. But this is not the first high-seas tale of woe of late for the Boys in Blue. Run of bad luck? Too much mission for too few vessels? Incompetence? Lack of funding?

Reports from the March 20 Middle Eastern mishap indicate the Hartford was submerged but traveling close to the surface when the vessels collided. At least 15 submariners were injured, though none seriously. The submarine did not fare so well and suffered significant damage to its sail. On the up side the nuclear power plant reportedly was unaffected. Above the surface the New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank dumping 25,000 gallons of marine diesel fuel into the sea. Two ballast tanks also were damaged. Despite their wounds, both vessels made it back to port in Bahrain on their own. (Read: They did not have to be towed like the USS Port Royal that recently spent three days stuck on a reef off the coast of Hawaii after running hard aground.)

It appears no fewer than three U.S. submarines have been involved in collisions in the area in the recent years, which might indicate the importance of the region.

On Jan. 8, 2007, the USS Newport News (SSN-750), an attack submarine, collided with the Mogamigawa, a Japanese oil tanker, which overtook the sub in the narrow strait while they were heading out of the area. In 2005, the USS Philadelphia (SSN-690), another attack submarine collided with a Turkish cargo ship off Bahrain.

The Hartford and New Orleans were a part of an expeditionary strike group conducting counterpiracy ops in the region. The Strait of Hormuz is considered the world’s most important choke point. Nearly 20 million barrels of oil pass through this strait between Iran and Oman each day (not to mention a number of unlucky Navy ships).

The Strait of Hormuz might be narrow, but one would think that surface and subsurface vessels would have broken the code on safe passage.

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